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Authors: Meda Ryan

Tags: #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History, #Biography & Autobiography, #Guerrillas, #Military, #Historical, #Nationalists

Tom Barry (6 page)

BOOK: Tom Barry
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23
Tom Kelleher, author interview 17/3/1974.

24
Ibid
., 17/3/1974; Barry ‘put it up to' Seán MacCárthaigh one night ‘that I should give a lecture, but I did not feel competent, and I had much more pleasure and benefit in listening to yours.' MacCárthaigh to Barry 16/7/ 1948; see also Flor­ence O'Donoghue Papers, ‘We were thinking of a long cam­paign'. MS 31,320, NLI.

25
Brigid O'Mahony, author interview 14/5/1980.

26
Tom Barry's notes – TB private papers.

27
Tom Barry, author interviews; Seán O'Driscoll, FO'D Papers, MS 31,301 (8), NLI; Tom Barry, UCG Lecture to History Students, 1969, Recording, cour­tesy of John Browne, ex-detective sergeant; see also Barry
Guerilla Days
, pp. 20–22.

28
John Fitzgerald, author interview 16/8/1974; Barry,
The Reality
, p. 22.

29
Danny Canty, author interview 7/12/1974.

30
Butler, p. 46.

31
Jerh Cronin, author interview 10/1/1981.

3 – Training, Ambushes, Action, Auxiliary Confrontation

Recruiting for the Black and Tans opened in England on 1 January 1920. Ten shillings a day was offered to men willing to join the British forces in Ireland ‘to get rid of a gangster fighting element' and ‘make it a hell for rebels to live in'. They were joined in August by the Auxiliary division, all ex-officers of commissioned rank who had seen active service during the 1914–1918 War. The ‘Auxies' were paid £1 per day and wore dark blue uniforms and dark Balmoral bonnets. Throughout the year hundreds of troops poured into West Cork.

In the summer of 1920 enemy pressure increased with the landing of a further 2,000 troops in Bantry. Bandon, Innishannon, Dunmanway, Rosscarbery and other towns in the area were heavily re-inforced with British troops. It was this contingent that the Third West Cork Brigade, which never numbered in strength more than 110 armed active service Volunteers, had to fight and even overcome by guerrilla tactics.

Reports reached the column that the Essex regiment was continually looting, burning houses and harassing Irish citizens. John Connolly, an unarmed Volunteer, was arrested by the Essex, and was found dead some weeks later in a park, near Bandon. Seán Buckley's home was burned, as was that of the Hales family in Knocknacurra. Tom Barry was incensed; he placed the blame particularly on Major Percival and decided he would have to deal with him. (He was the same Major Percival who, in 1941, surrendered Singapore to lesser forces.)
[1]
‘This officer was easily the most viciously anti-Irish of all serving British officers', Tom Barry remarked.
[2]

Tom was in a training camp in Ballymurphy, near Upton. Acting on their intelligence reports he and another Volunteer went to Bandon and waited in a doorway for Percival to pass by at 7.45 p.m. on his nightly visit to the home of a local bank manager, prior to his town raids. Percival never appeared and they had to retire disappointed. News reached them next day that Percival had in fact left the barracks at 6 p.m. but in another direction. While Barry and his companion lay in wait for him, Percival and his men were raiding local houses.

Following each camp, training engagements were sought, but invariably the military failed to respond. After the first training camp Barry organised an ambush on the Dunmanway-Ballineen road at Farranlobus where British soldiers travelled daily in a particular formation. This well-organised ambush with men in strategic positions had a good field of fire. Though they waited until nightfall, the enemy failed to travel that day. This confirmed the column officers' suspicions that informers were active. Tom kept pressing for action, as informing would wreck their hard work.
[3]

On the night of 21 October 1920, 31 rifle-men were mobilised at Dan Delaney's to prepare for the Toureen (Tureen) ambush.
[4]
Tom leaned against a door-frame and watched four men in a small room putting the finishing touches to a mine. Paddy Crowley was helping Charlie Hurley and Seán Hales and Dick Barrett were chatting. The ambush, which was to engage two or three lorries of the Essex Regiment en route from Bandon to Cork at Toureen, outside brigade boundaries, was well planned. Tom's motto was, ‘Fight and win. Don't look for a retreat'.

At 4 a.m. on 22 October 1920 the flying column moved off to occupy positions at Toureen. The men were divided into three sections: Liam Deasy with nine rifle-men inside the ditch at the eastern end; Charlie Hurley at the centre with two rifle-men to explode the mine, with the remainder of his party further east; and Tom Barry with his section of ten men, five kneeling and five standing at the western side behind a loosely tied gate. According to Barry's plan the explosion of the mine was to bring the leading lorry to a halt, forcing the second vehicle to stop. The spot where this was expected to occur was in front of the farm gate; the men under Barry's section waited here. Each action was rehearsed several times. Before the men took their places Tom performed a small ceremony. From the British War Office, he had just received three medals ‘in a neat cardboard box' won ‘in service to the crown'. He distributed one to each of his section commanders ‘with orders to put them up'.
[5]
With his concern for civilians, Barry had already seen to the evacuation of the Roberts family from the nearby farm to the house of some neighbours. Two rifle-men escorted them, with orders to ensure that no one left the house.

Shortly after nine o'clock the scouts signalled the approach of the first lorry. As it passed over the mine Charlie Hurley depressed the plunger of his exploder; nothing happened. Deasy's section fired, but the lorry sped off towards Cork.

Tom Barry flung open the gate and jumped on the road as the second lorry approached. He threw a bomb, which didn't explode but the lorry lurched and got stuck in a dyke. The men jumped out, some were mortally wounded as they left the lorry. A sharp fight followed with some of the IRA facing the Essex men directly, some with little cover. After some intense fighting Lieut Dixon and four soldiers were dead. The Essex men offered to surrender and raised their hands.

Barry, in command, blew his whistle for cease-fire. In military style he ordered his men to collect the guns and ammunition. None of his men were injured. He asked the column to make the wounded Essex comfortable. They were supplied with bandages, as their first-aid equipment was in the first lorry, which had escaped. The dead men were pulled from the vicinity and the lorry, sprinkled with petrol, was burned. Barry then called the unwounded to attention and addressed them. He told them that their ruffianism, the beatings of helpless prisoners and their terrorism of the civilian population had been noted. ‘Torturing of prisoners like Tom Hales and Pat Harte weren't forgotten. The murder of John Connolly, Bandon, having been held for a week was a foul deed,' he said. ‘You have been treated like soldiers on this occasion,' he told their senior surviving sergeant. ‘Tell Major Percival, if you continue to torture and murder, expect to be treated only as murderers.' The senior sergeant thanked the IRA for their fair treatment and said he would convey the message.
[6]

He knew he made two mistakes in the Toureen ambush. He should have warned the advance section of the possibility of failure with the exploder; in that event they should have been ready to attack the first lorry. Also his throwing of the bomb into the lorry could have caused harm to his own men as well as to the enemy at such close range.
[7]
Speed was essential Barry knew as reinforcements from Cork or Bandon could be on the scene shortly. The column marched cross country towards Kilmacsimon Quay, procured a large boat from the Deasy brothers, divided into sections and rowed across.

At Chambers Cross Charlie Hurley had presented Tom with Lieut Dixon's revolver and field equipment while ceremoniously speaking a few words on behalf of the column. His first ambush was a success.

British propaganda went into overdrive. It reported the ambush as ‘one of the first operations carried out by a flying column against the crown forces ... Probably about 150 rebels took part ... the rebels charged them with fixed bayonets ... Regardless of the agonies, which the troops were suffering, they dragged off their equipment' ... The ‘rebels' are described as savage. They ‘kicked Dickenson's dead body,' and ‘rendered no assistance' to the wounded.
[8]
Ewan Butler points to ‘the British account of the affair' lacking credibility with their version ‘that the mine was wired to the ignition-coil of a Ford car' when there was no car.
[9]

That night, as the column billeted in Kilbrittain, up to 400 Essex Regiment and the Black and Tans, led by the surviving sergeant of the Toureen ambush, went on the rampage in Bandon. They smashed property and terrorised anyone remotely connected with the nationalist movement. However, Loyalists in the town also suffered, as the military did not discriminate in their victims. Bandon Hosiery factory was burned to the ground, as was M & C Healy Malting & Corn Stores. ‘Shops were attacked wholesale; every plate glass window in the South Main Street and Bridge Street was smashed to smithereens. Many houses were set on fire and some burnt out. Premises were broken into and wrecked.' Thirty-four known premises in town were ‘damaged or wrecked'.
[10]
It was the first major devastation and burning of a town in the county. After the Loyalists complained to the British divisional headquarters in Cork, their commanding officer had the regiment and Tans confined to barracks next day.
[11]

Meanwhile, Barry and his column, now with extra men, equipped with the captured arms, moved towards Bandon and waited in ambush positions to engage the enemy. They did not succeed so the column was then disbanded.

While Tom waited for the transfer of rifles for another training camp he decided to target a judge who, despite a warning, was particularly harsh in passing sentences on IRA prisoners. Charlie Hurley and Tom, both in stocking-feet, pushed themselves along the overhead railway close to Lee's Hotel, Bandon (now the Munster Arms), to within close range of the room where Judge Sealy slept. Each night the judge entered the room at approximately 11 o'clock, go to the window and breathe in the night air. On this particular night the room remained dark until 11.10 and it was some time before a figure appeared at the window. Charlie Hurley had taken the first pressure on the trigger and was waiting for Tom's ‘Now!' to signal their simultaneous fire.

‘I took aim and gently touched the trigger of a Peter the Painter automatic with a stock attached. The blind sprang up revealing a woman, and I have never fathomed yet why it did not cause the very, very light pressure required on the trigger to fire the bullet. We lay motionless,' Tom recalled, ‘while the woman peered out into the darkness. Speechless we crawled away about 70 yards'.
[12]
Tom said they walked away ‘happy at not having killed the woman, that we forgot our failure to shoot the judge.' (Apparently, Judge Sealy had asked that day to be moved to a larger room.)

The deaths of Sealy and Percival would, according to Tom, have been more useful than the deaths of many private soldiers. ‘Percival was a leading instrument in the plan for our destruction, while the judge was an important prop to British power. This judge, technically a civilian, had large armed forces at his disposal. British law administrations and British military forces were complementary.'
[13]
At a brigade council meeting in Coppeen on 31 October Tom had asked for and had been given absolute command of the flying column. His decisions would be his and his alone without interference. He would take full responsibility, would be subject to no authority and would have to take the blame for any failure or disaster.
[14]

Tom Barry was appointed official commander of the flying column. Charlie Hurley expressed his gratitude for the ‘outstanding service which Barry had already rendered.'
[15]
By this time many battalion OCs had reported assaults by the Auxiliaries in their districts. Though it was felt by all that they should be challenged, no definite decision was reached.
[16]
Tom moved on to the Bantry area, trained 55 officers from the Bantry, Schull and Castletownbere battalions, then had some of the rifles sent to Dunmanway to train that battalion in the fifth and final training camp. One night in Bantry the men were soaked to the skin. At nightfall Barry made sure they had a change of clothing and whatever comfort was available before he considered his own welfare.
[17]

On Sunday 20 November at a brigade council meeting in Gloun the incursion of the Macroom Auxiliaries into the Third West Cork Brigade area was discussed at length. Charlie Hurley said that ‘they should be tackled. We knew they were well trained in fighting and drill.'
[18]
The men were unaware that as their meeting progressed this force held ‘the Bantry Line road to Cork in the village of Coppeen, three miles east of Gloun.' Some men left the meeting and were held up at Coppeen by Col Craik and his Auxiliary force; the men gave a believable alibi and had a ‘providential escape'.
[19]
Deasy maintained that the incursion and cruel treatment meted out by the Macroom Auxiliaries helped to make ‘Tom determined to attack this force. He had a remarkable grasp of military psychology, which enabled him to anticipate the actions of his enemy. That is why he believed they would continue to travel the same road on the following Sunday … Like all of us he kept his council and did not allow for the slightest suspicion.'
[20]

On the same day in Dublin, in simultaneous predawn raids, Michael Collins' men killed 11 British intelligence agents. In retaliation the Black and Tans invaded a football match at Croke Park that afternoon and fired indiscriminately at the teams and at an estimated 7,000 spectators, killing 12 civilians including one player, Michael Hogan, and wounding 60. This day became known as Bloody Sunday.

Barry returned from the meeting to the training camp (Farrell's and Kelly's) at Clogher, north-west of Dunmanway. At this time, 150 ‘C' Company Auxiliaries were stationed at Macroom Castle. They were recruited to break the IRA's force and squash Ireland's resistance to British rule. Harassing people in Ballingeary after Sunday Mass was a game for ‘the Castle Auxies. Every neighbour in the district had been raided. They broke furniture, pulled men, women and children from their beds at all hours of the night, made wrecks of houses and brought misery … A bad lot!'
[21]

‘They had a special technique', Tom Barry wrote. ‘Fast lorries of them would come roaring into a village, the occupants would jump out, firing shots and ordering all the inhabitants out of doors'.
[22]
After house raids, people were beaten up, men stripped and beaten in front of women – their deeds of terrorism were numerous. At certain times they concentrated on raiding south into the West Cork brigade area.
[23]

One of their ‘great games' was to drive through the country, stop the lorry, take ‘pot shots' to scatter up earth beside a man working in the field. This would be followed by great laughter as the man ran for cover. This happened to Richard Coughlan on a few occasions and he was ‘lucky' to escape. ‘Their bullets injured many innocent people'.
[24]
Two soldiers at a gate took ‘pot shots‘ at William Hawkes who worked in a field with his father. He ran, jumped over the fence. After the third shot he fell. ‘The young man was maimed for life; his leg had to be amputated at the hip.'
[25]
Micheál Ó Súilleabháin knew that the ‘marauding' Auxiliaries in Macroom Castle ‘were a tough crowd … I had plenty of experience of their physical fitness when I had to run from them on several occasions.' While working in a haggard one day he feared for his life. ‘If a man ran and was seen running, he was shot down. He could possibly be shot too for standing still. That was the order of the day. Nobody doubted it.'
[26]
Mick Sullivan recalled ‘a clear frosty' morning around ‘a quarter to eight' when ‘four hostages' were made run in front of a lorry of Macroom Auxies. Major Graw and his officers fired shots as if ‘looking for a direct line of fire and missing the lads ... I never heard anything like the screams for the air was all clear ... the Auxiliaries were terrorising the countryside.'
[27]
Lieut Col S. F. Smyth, divisional commander RIC Munster, issued an order on 17 June 1920 that ‘a policeman is perfectly justified in shooting any man who he has good reason to believe is carrying arms and who does not immediately throw up his hands when ordered'.
[28]
On 1 November 1920 one of the Macroom Castle Auxiliaries entered a house in Ballyvourney village ‘called out a married man named Jim Lehane, a man who would not hurt a fly'. He took this ‘innocent civilian' across the road and ‘shot him dead.' The Auxiliary was Cadet Cecil Guthrie. That night as he drank in a local pub he boasted that he ‘got the bastard' and that it was ‘one way of teaching' them manners. The local intelligence unit was informed.

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